Judge Roger Vinson, the Vandy alum and Florida federal judge who not only struck down the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act but the entire law, stayed his own ruling, provided the question moves quickly to a Court of Appeal.
Vinson was apparently irritated by the ongoing implementation of the law, despite the fact that two federal judges have already upheld the constitutionality of ACA and, at last count, some 12 other courts had dismissed challenges to reform altogether. Consensus, there ain't. When Vinson issued his opinion at the beginning of February, Pith took issue with some of his findings: Namely, the Boston Tea Party comparison. It makes for great rhetoric, but Pith found it intellectually dishonest to compare an essential, often bankruptcy-inducing expense we all eventually incur to a box of Lipton. Of course, there was also his brain-melting conclusion that 51 million uninsured people have no effect on interstate commerce.
In his decision to stay the injunction, he repeated a misconception about the U.S. Supreme Court, speculating on how it will rule, claiming the justices "may eventually split on this issue as well." But just because this has been treated less as a legal issue and more like a political issue in the federal district courts doesn't mean the Supremes will divide 5-4 down partisan lines. Because since the New Deal, the high court has held that Congress has broad constitutional powers to regulate interstate commerce.
Hospitals pass on the cost of bad debt incurred by providing care to the many millions without insurance. In part, these costs get passed on to the insured by massive companies providing coverage in many states at once. We're talking about a multi-trillion dollar industry. When someone who can afford health insurance chooses not to buy it, they're hitching a free ride. And when they get sick, we all pay the bill. Hospitals can't legally turn anyone away, nor should they. But there are economic consequences for us all in the choice not to buy insurance. It's no different from Social Security, which would collapse if we didn't all contribute.
In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against an Amish carpenter who claimed the requirement that he withhold Social Security taxes from his employees' pay was unconstitutional. The justices ruled that it was necessary at times to "justify a limitation" in order to protect an "overriding governmental interest." And with $2.3 trillion spent on health care in 2008, the government clearly has an interest in reigning in a bloated system that excludes one out of every six of us.
Contrary to Vinson's prediction, it's unlikely the high court will be as easily distracted by the illusory endangerment to individual liberty. When someone who can afford to contribute opts out, they've made a decision for us all.